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Reviewing the newest Can-Am Defender UTV

We spend a few weeks of winter testing Can-Am’s newest UTV

Three years ago Grainews gathered several side-by-side UTVs together for a full review and comparison. Included in that group was the Can-Am Defender from BRP (Bombardier Recreational Products). Our panel of judges were impressed with that model back then and rated it highly.

So this year when Can-Am asked us if we’d like to have an example of the latest version of the Defender for an extended review, we jumped at the chance to spend a couple of weeks with one.

Specifications

MSRP: $29,199
Engine: 976 cc V-twin Rotax
Horsepower: 72
Brakes: Dual 220 mm vented disc
Wheelbase: 83 inches
Payload capacity: 1,200 pounds (544 kilograms)
Cargo box capacity: 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms)
Towing capacity: 2,500 pounds (1,134 kilograms)
Winch capacity: 4,500 pounds (2,014 kilgrams)

The company spec’d out a model specifically for us with all the options they thought made the Defender the most capable on-farm machine it could be. It was a Defender XT HD10 model. Most notably, it included a heated cab, which made our winter testing a lot more comfortable — far more comfortable, in fact — than we expected. It was actually possible to ride inside on the coldest day wearing just shirtsleeves.

The cab also included such niceties as power windows and mounting locations for a serious sound system, although ours wasn’t equipped with one. The trouble with that, though, is you’d have problems hearing it inside the cab. The ambient noise level was disappointing, making that the biggest and nearly only flaw we could find with the factory-equipped cab.

Cab access was easy with the wide door openings and the cab was spacious for a vehicle of this type.
photo: Scott Garvey

There was comfortable bench seating for three adults to squeeze into and our test unit had the optional under-seat storage bins under the centre and passenger seat. (Add $223.99 to the base price for those two options.)

The “suicide doors” that opened to the front rather than the rear seemed a bit odd at first. But all the reviewers came to like them, finding they allowed for very easy access to the cab.

The cargo bed included side pockets to add height to the sides.
photo: Scott Garvey

 

This factory rear cab guard protected the rear cab window from cargo damage.
photo: Scott Garvey

To protect the cab from any accidental damage from carrying cargo in the box, Can-Am equipped our test unit with a rear cab protector, or “headache rack” as the truckers call it — a $419.99 option. That impressed us as being an option worth considering to protect the large rear (and sliding) rear window from damage. It also helped make cargo securement easier with the included LinQ tool holders (a $64.99 add on) securement points and attachment straps for tools.

The reviewers agreed the box sides were a low, which made loading and unloading easy, but meant it was easy to spill out loads while driving. However, there are moulded-in mounting points in the box walls for stake sides that owners could add on if necessary. And the relatively small box didn’t take long to fill up.

At night, the headlights did a very good job of lighting up the road ahead. The stock lights were more than adequate for our testing needs, and the same could likely be said for any on-farm tasks. Adding additional lights wouldn’t be difficult, though, with ample room on the dash for additional switches. The interior light lit up cab brightly when turned on. But at least one reviewer thought the dash lighting could be better.

Comfortable controls and power windows gave the Defender an automotive feel.
photo: Scott Garvey

When it comes to speed and acceleration, we’d have been prepared to put the Defender up against a new Mustang in a 100-yard dash. We didn’t check to see what the official top speed rating was, but we had the speedo nudging 60 m.p.h. on one run. We don’t recommend you try that at home, but, you know, boys being boys, it was inevitable someone in our group would test the limit.

Running the Defender off road over some relatively rough terrain was no problem, and the four-wheel independent suspension impressed the reviewers. The machine remained very stable at pretty quick speeds over very rough terrain. Given this model was spec’d out as a workhorse and not a racer, its high-speed performance was impressive.

With four-wheel drive and rear differential lock, the Defender had ample traction in deep snow, getting more than enough power from its V-twin, 72 horsepower engine to power through tough conditions.

One thing our test Defender lacked was rear-view mirrors, and it felt really awkward driving it without them.

Of course, we did more than try to get an adrenaline rush with the Defender. Ours was equipped with both a front and rear hitch receiver. We put a trailer behind it and hauled a few loads. Lugging power was ample, and the Defender had no trouble pulling, even in deep snow. Stopping a heavy trailer though, was a different matter. A heavy trailer pushed the Defender around when trying to stop on snowy trails, which really wasn’t surprising given the weight differential between the Defender and the loaded trailer.

The four-wheel independent suspension proved very impressive at high speeds on rough terrain.
photo: Scott Garvey

Hooking up to a trailer with the Defender was a bit of a two-man job. It’s impossible to see the rear hitch from the driver’s seat and the driveline is jerky at very low speeds, like when inching up to a trailer hitch. That is a problem we’ve noticed on all UTVs we’ve tested over the years, due to their driveline configuration. It made the reviewers wonder if it would be possible for engineers to include a kind of creeper gear in future models to make that chore easier.

From a safety aspect, the cab has a rollover protective structure and seatbelts for occupants. And the Defender forces all in the cab to use them. If seatbelts aren’t used, the engine de-rates, allowing for only low speed operation.

Our Defender’s driveline had ECO, work and normal driving modes. In reality, we didn’t find too much difference between them.

LIKES and DISLIKES

LIKES:

  • The fun factor is high with this machine that can still be a capable workhorse
  • Impressive suspension performance
  • Good headlights
  • Ample power and speed
  • Warm cab with comfortable seating
  • Easy to drive
  • Good traction off road with four-wheel drive and rear differential lock

DISLIKES:

  • Noise level in the cab is quite high, making even conversation difficult
  • Making small manoeuvres when backing up to a trailer hitch is difficult due to jerky driveline engagement at low speed
  • No mirrors on our test unit, which we’d want included
  • Limited box capacity

Overall, our group of reviewing drivers all gave the Defender thumbs up. It is capable machine that was fun to drive as well as able to do some work. The only major negative we could find was that at this price point we’re into good used pickup truck territory. With a truck there is the ability to use it on road, whereas the Defender cannot be registered and used as a road vehicle. But if its size and abilities are a closer fit to the farm tasks it would be put to, which is a distinct possibility, then the Defender is worthy of being included in a farm equipment fleet.

The V-twin Rotax engine had ample power to pull trailer loads in soft conditions.
photo: Scott Garvey

About the author

Machinery Editor

Scott Garvey is the machinery editor for Grainews.

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